(Syndicated to Kansas newspapers Aug. 5, 2013)
There’s a request to the Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council—the business side of running the Legislature—for a much talked-about but never tried study of state government.
It’s called zero-based budgeting, and it has not been sought on a reasonable scale before.
What’s that? It is virtually dismantling for budget purposes a state agency and seeing what the agency is charged to do by state law, and what it spends to do it.
This year, Senate Ways and Means Chair Ty Masterson, R-Andover, says he’d like to zero-base budget an agency or two, not the whole state, just an agency or two to see whether the agency is doing what it is supposed to do, and whether it is doing it in the most cost-efficient manner..
It’s a little like creating a brand new agency. Toss aside all the stuff that is done by tradition, all the programs that historically have been done because, well, the agency always has done them.
You just look at what the agency is supposed to be doing under state law and what resources in terms of people and money it takes to do it. No history, no tradition, just starting from zero to do what the agency is supposed to do.
Does that sound a little simplistic? Probably, but it also sounds a little businesslike.
Practically, state government, as administrations change and new department secretaries are appointed, do about what they did in the past under previous administrations because most of the workers in agencies stay there through changes in administration. That’s just how it is.
That storehouse of knowledge, tradition and how-we-do-it-here is an asset, but it also deters change for better or worse. Yet sometimes you need an old-timer in an agency to tell you what works and what doesn’t.
So this zero-based examination of an agency or two just might turn up evidence of money being spent that really doesn’t need to be spent…or how just a little more money would allow an agency to do a better job of what it is supposed to do. It can go either way.
It’s not something you would want done to the entire state government in a 90-day session of the Legislature. But it is something that probably can be done on one or two agencies in a couple weeks this fall to see whether the experiment is worthwhile.
It would put some agency—whichever is chosen—clearly under the microscope and that’s probably something most agencies aren’t interested in.
No decision by the coordinating council on approving the days of study—and the money it would cost—but you have to wonder what the experiment might produce.